By Don Marquis
From “archys life of mehitabel,” 1933
Archy the Cockroach made his initial appearance in my office a good many years ago, in fact about the same time that free verse began to commend itself to the multitudes because it looked as if it would be so easy to write. There was a period which many persons still more or less alive may remember when you could not scratch a taxi-driver, an insurance agent, or a newspaper reporter without finding a free-verse poet under the skin. Archy claimed that he was a victim of transmigration; that he had been a vers libre bard, and that for his sins of omission and commission his soul had been sentenced to serve an indeterminate sentence in the body of a cockroach. Mehitabel the Cat, who appeared about the same time, made a similar claim; before she was Mehitabel, she said, she had been Cleopatra and various other lively ladies.
Archy writes without punctuation because he is forced to use his head to butt the keys of the typewriter one at a time, and he is not able to reach the shift keys of the machine in order to make punctuation marks or capital letters. Mehitabel does not use the typewriting machine at all, so Archy is forced to be her reporter.
I must suppose that these creatures have a kind of vitality. During the eight or ten years in which they appeared in the New York Evening Sun, and the several years succeeding in which they contaminated the pages of the New York Herald Tribune and the twenty-odd other journals throughout the country to which the material was syndicated, I tried to kill them off at least half a dozen times. But they would not stay dead. Every time I killed them, I got hundreds of letters from their devoted, readers demanding an immediate resuscitation. It was easy enough to manage these resurrections; every time I stepped on Archy and slew him, his soul could transmigrate into another cockroach without missing a strophe. I finally began to understand that for some reason or other (or possibly for no reason at all) there was a certain public which wanted them. A few years ago I collected a number of Archy’s communications into a book, and this volume surprised me by selling thirty thousand copies at a time when “books were not selling.” The characters appeared for two years in Colliers’ Weekly also, and they must have met with a response in that journal, for the editors insisted that I do them every week. For these reasons, it seems worth while to get out another book.